If the Negligent Driver Dies, What Are My Recovery Options?
Sometimes, car accidents in North Carolina end with a deceased driver who fails to survive their injuries after they cause a collision. If you or your loved one suffered injuries because of the deceased motorist’s actions, you might wonder what your legal options are now that the at-fault driver is no longer alive. Can you still claim compensation under North Carolina law?
What Happens if the Driver Who Caused the Accident Dies?
If the at-fault driver dies following the accident, you would usually be able to pursue the same recovery options as in cases where the negligent driver is alive. In most cases, the at-fault driver’s insurance company (or the driver’s employer’s insurance provider if they were a professional driver) will approach the victim’s injury claims just as though the at-fault driver survived the crash. Thus, you can still expect the insurance carrier that covers the at-fault driver and/or the vehicle he/she was driving to take steps to avoid payment and to minimize your injury claims.
Access to evidence is quite limited in fatal accident cases. If the at-fault driver passes away after the collision, the insurance company knows that a jury would likely sympathize with the decedent, and thus they try to discount their settlement offers in these cases. Also, with a driver no longer available to testify, insurance companies are free to formulate their own theory of how the crash happened, and they will not hesitate to place blame on innocent victims. Thus, it is important to promptly investigate the collision to collect and preserve valuable evidence to show how the crash happened, to establish fault for the decedent at-fault driver, and to ensure that you protect your compensation rights for all aspects of your car accident legal case.
If the at-fault driver was driving a borrowed vehicle that does not belong to a family member, you should look for coverage first on the vehicle he/she was driving, and ALSO you look at all family-owned car insurance policies in the at-fault driver’s household. These policies provide excess/additional liability coverage for your injury claims. Beyond these policies, you can also collect from Underinsured Motorist (UIM) policy for the car insurance covering the vehicle you were in when the crash occurred PLUS all other family-owned UIM policies in your household. UIM coverage is stackable in North Carolina. Thus, for each separate policy, you add up the per-person limits of UIM bodily injury coverage for all policies to determine the total amount of coverage available to fund your injury claims.
How Estate Filing Deadlines May Interact With Your Car Accident Claim
If the negligent driver passes away, whether because of a car accident or for any other reason, you, as the surviving accident victim, must pay attention to estate filing deadlines. While a full discussion of estate and probate law is beyond the scope of this article, it is critical to understand that if you have claims against a deceased driver, you must make sure that you provide notice of your potential claims to the estate administrator in a timely fashion to avoid losing your compensation rights.
Following the death of the at-fault driver, in cases where the decedent had personal wealth or assets, the decedent’s will executor or administrator will file to open an estate. The estate administration process then requires them to publish a notice to any potential creditors in the county where the decedent resided. This notice will run in the local newspapers for four weeks in a row. That notice invites anyone who might have a claim against the decedent’s estate to mail written notice of the claim to the estate administrator (and to be safe, it is wise to also send notice to the Clerk of Court identifying the estate file number). In this published “notice to creditors”, anyone with a claim against the estate is allowed just three months to send notification of the claim and properly file a claim against the decedent’s estate. Failing to file within this deadline can disqualify you from collecting additional compensation (beyond an insurance settlement) from the estate assets.
North Carolina law does provide an exception to this in cases where the estate administrator knew or should have known that a claim exists against the estate. In these cases, the estate administrator is required to actually notify the known claimant and invite a claim to be filed. However, this exception does not apply if the claim arose at the time of the decedent’s death. Thus, you must show that the at-fault driver survived for at least a short time following the collision to claim this exception. Rather than count on this, the best practice is to monitor the county estate filings where the at-fault driver lived when the crash occurred, watch for the notice to creditors to be published in the county’s local newspaper that is the properly designated publication for carrying legal notices in the county, and send the notice of claim as soon as the notice to creditors appears in the local paper.
What if the Car Accident Resulted in Both Drivers’ Deaths?
What if both drivers — the at-fault driver and the victim — die in a fatal car accident? You can claim insurance benefits as the victim’s spouse or family member.
A wrongful death settlement may include compensation for:
- Your loved one’s medical care, including emergency care, hospitalization, and surgery
- Funeral and burial costs
- Your loved one’s pain and suffering prior to death
- Loss of the decedent’s wages and financial contribution to dependents and family members who relied on that income before the collision
- Loss of consortium, care, assistance, companionship, and protection
If the deceased negligent driver had insufficient coverage, your loved one’s personal representative might also file a wrongful death lawsuit against the at-fault driver’s estate. Like personal injury cases, wrongful death cases involve proving the allegedly responsible driver’s liability. Any wrongful death settlement or lawsuit award would go to the victim’s legal beneficiaries — usually the surviving spouse, children, or parents.
Do You Need a Personal Injury Lawyer for Your Claim?
Personal injury claims involve a complex legal process, especially if the at-fault party has passed before or during the claim. In this situation, it’s vital to work with an experienced personal injury lawyer who will:
- Evaluate your case and provide your best plan of legal action – and undertake all steps for you to make this plan a reality
- Advise you on using your health insurance for ongoing medical costs and to increase your net settlement payment at the conclusion of your personal injury case
- Help you handle the process of filing a claim against the decedent’s estate
- Protect your interests throughout the claim process and work hard to expedite your claim
- Advise you on additional legal options, like taking your case to court if the insurance adjusters refuse to offer fair compensation for your injuries and losses
Contact Nagle & Associates Personal Injury Trial Lawyers for Car Accident Claims in North Carolina
Are you dealing with a complicated car accident claim involving a deceased negligent driver? The legal team at Nagle & Associates, P.A., can help you protect and enforce your legal rights, and secure the highest possible payment for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Call (866) 631-2228 for a free, detailed telephone consultation with an experienced car accident lawyer.